History of LIBC Part 2


The first part of the story described the birth of LIBC and we explained how LIBC was originally established in 1982 as a section of the Leisure Isle Country Club by a small but intrepid group of avid fishermen and boaters led by Leo Isaacs. The newly formed club initiated discussions with the Knysna Municipality aimed at creating facilities for berthing of boats in the Kingfisher Creek area  of Leisure Isle. The initial dreams slowly gained ground and within a few years had evolved into real planning for a small boat harbour with proper berthing facilities.

Finally after ten long years of never-ending planning and negotiation with the Municipality and the then National Parks Board (now SANParks), who had only just taken over control of the Knysna Estuary, these dreams came to fruition at the end of 1991 at which time formal approval for the harbour development was granted by the authorities. Eventually, in January 1992 the Leisure Isle Boat Club became a fully independent organisation with its own constitution.

By the end of 1991 the position of the harbour had been determined, the lease of the land on which the harbour was to be developed had been finalised with the municipality and much of the preliminary design work had been completed. By that time Peter Gordon had taken over from Leo Isaacs as LIBC Chairman and he was a giant of a man in every sense of the word and the ideal person to lead LIBC through the period of construction of the harbour. Prof Brian Allanson had been responsible for much of the technical planning and particularly for going through the process of undertaking the environmental impact assessement and negotiating with SANParks and there is no doubt that without the respect and trust with which he was regarded by the authorities, the harbour plans would never have been approved. By this time also, Colin Mathiesen, a Member of LIBC who is a qualified civil engineer with much experience in civil engineering construction, and another LIBC Member, Warren Francis, a marine engineer, were both deeply involved with the technical design for the harbour and indeed, Colin was responsible for much of the design of the harbour construction that we see today, particularly with respect to the jetty designs.

To digress for a moment, Colin Mathiesen grew up in Knysna but finished his schooling at Grey High in Port Elizabeth and then studied civil engineering at UCT in Cape Town. He ran a very successful civil engineering contracting business for a number of years before achieving his dream of retiring to Leisure Isle at a relatively early age. Colin has always had a great interest in boating and has been a keen sailor all his life and a very active member of the Knysna Yacht Club  ever since childhood. Thus it was that soon after his arrival back in Knysna  he was quickly enlisted (press-ganged is probably a better expression) by Peter Gordon to take charge of the engineering design of the harbour, a task which he tackled with typical enthusiasm and dedication.

Colin was responsible for the entire engineering design and drawings for the harbour construction and his drawings remain in our records until now, including meticulously detailed drawings of all the timber jetties. His designs have proved themselves over a long period of time and they remain virtually unchanged even now. While researching this story we were fortunate to be able to talk to Colin about his involvement at the time that the harbour was built and he gave us a great deal of valuable information to include in this story.

In Colin’s words, “ Peter Gordon was a retired geologist and he succeeded Leo Isaacs as Chairman in 1991. Peter was a big forthright man, very likable after penetrating his brusque manner. He formed a small working group to propel the harbour project through officialdom and due process. Professor Brian Allanson took on the environmental impact study, for which he was uniquely qualified. Colin Mathiesen got design, tender documentation and adjudication and shared other duties with Peter. Peter drove the process vigorously.

(Ed: Colin plays down his role in the harbour development but knowing the work and effort that goes into the engineering design for a project of this nature, Colin clearly played a massive role in the process).

“Design was informed by visits to Plett and St Francis marinas and valuable lessons were learned from their successes and mistakes.

Hugh Mackensie was consulted about dimensions of boats on the local market. Unfortunately a new range of wider boats came onto the market shortly after harbour completion. This problem was resolved when the berths were eventually widened (in 2004 when the harbour was extended).

The harbour design was constrained by the R1 million budget which required 200 berths to be pre-sold at R5 000.00 each. Marine treated pine was used for the retaining walls as concrete or gabions were too expensive. Recognising the temporary nature of timber, Peter and Colin devised a mechanism to fund future maintenance and replacement. The Berth Owners’ Agreement contains a clause which allocates 20% of the profit on the sale of a berth to LIBC. As berth values increased over time from R5 000.00 to nearly R150 000.00 today, this clause enabled LIBC to build a substantial fund to rebuild walls in stone, replace jetties, build a clubhouse and many other amenities. The club’s strong financial position has also enabled it to be a leading club in contributing to social upliftment, NSRI and estuary projects”

(Ed: we indeed owe a big debt of gratitude to people like Peter Gordon and Colin Mathiesen for their foresight in recognising the importance of structuring the club’s finances in such a way to ensure that provision would be made for ever-increasing costs over time. Although the “club commission” is unpopular to some, in many respects it has been LIBC’s saviour).

“Initial pre-construction berth sales were slow, potential buyers being deterred by the slow progress of LIBC’s development up to that point. It was difficult to imagine a successful harbour emerging out of a messy garden refuse dump!”

(Ed: the author confesses to being one of those sceptics and it was only when I saw how successful the facility rapidly became that I purchased a berth in 1996, by which time I had to pay R23 000.00 instead of the R5 000.00 price two years earlier!)

“Vernon Rice, an attorney named Du Preez, and Colin pledged to each buy ten berths and this encouraged other buyers and soon there was a waiting list which still exists” (and gets longer all the time!)

Getting back to our story, it is a bit difficult to follow the exact sequence of events during the first half of 1992 because so much was happening but in general, tenders for the harbour construction were submitted and the firm Donram Construction was awarded the contract in about May 1992 at a price of R1 078 820.00 which was some R100 000.00 over the club’s budget and which resulted in LIBC obtaining a loan of R110 000.00 from the municipality. At the same time the local consulting engineering firm Niewoudt and Hofmeyer was appointed to manage the project and to monitor the harbour construction while Colin Mathieson remained responsible for acting as technical adviser to the committee. The agreed contract completion date was the first week in December, 1992.

In the meantime, the minutes of LIBC Committee meetings during 1992 record much discussion around determining fees and subscriptions related to usage of the harbour and slipway. A great deal of work took place to finalise various details such as parking, storage facilities and the like.

In August that year it was reported that work was behind schedule mainly due to heavy rains and later it was reported that delays were being experienced in the delivery of timber poles needed for construction of the harbour retaining walls. Prices had been obtained for the construction of a clubhouse and it was realised that this was beyond LIBC’s financial means at that time, but plans went ahead for the construction of the Toilet Block and the Fish-Cleaning Table.

In October 1992, LIBC membership was 265 persons.

By November 1992 it had become clear that the harbour would not be complete by December and a new target date was set for the end of January 1993. By early December excavation of the harbour basin was approaching completion and the basin depth was close to the design level, while dredging of the approach channel was proceeding after some delays caused by the excavator breaking down.

As an aside, the author vividly remembers visiting Leisure Isle one weekend at that time while the excavator was digging the approach channel behind Leisure Isle at low tide and seeing the huge machine virtually buried in the mud, I was convinced that it would never extricate itself! Miraculously somehow it managed to get out and work was able to proceed, but it really was quite a sight and credit was due to the skill of the operator.

Another interesting little item in the minutes around that time is that it would appear that the guardhut which is presently positioned at the entrance to the LIBC premises originally belonged to the municipality and had been located at Coney Glen. When it was no longer in use there, the municipality agreed to sell/give the hut to LIBC to where it was translocated and where it has remained to this very day! (as a matter of interest, during 2023 we realised that the Guardhut foundations had badly subsided and after some ingenious construction work and effort  the hut was jacked up and levelled and a new internal concrete floor was cast.

Finally, the minutes of a committee meeting held on 18 March 1993 record that “the official opening of the harbour would be on Thursday 8 April at 4.45pm (high tide)” and that the Mayor would be invited to open the harbour followed by a bring and braai for the members and their guests. Strangely enough, subsequent minutes of meetings held in late April and May say virtually nothing about the opening day, but perhaps the committee was exhausted by then and they were clearly still attending to a huge number of issues to see the project to final completion.

In any event, the official opening indeed took place on 8 April 1993 and those of us that still remember the event will recall that it was a great success with a procession of boats entering the harbour led by LIBC’s Chairman at the time, Peter Gordon, at the helm of his boat. And so, after more than ten years of hard slogging, all the efforts of that wonderful team of visionaries and pioneers led firstly by Leo Isaacs and later on by Peter Gordon with huge support from people like Brian Allanson, Colin Mathiesen, and a number of others finally paid off and our beloved Leisure Isle Boat Club harbour became a reality. What a success it has been and what a debt of gratitude is owed to that group!

I cannot help thinking of one of my own “rules of nature” that I have tried to follow all my life and that is that “the success of any venture is directly proportional to the effort that goes into its making”.

In the meantime, reading through the minutes of meetings and early newsletters, it is evident that even before construction of the harbour had commenced the committee had become preoccupied with the problem of determining maximum boat sizes that would be allowed in the harbour. The subject was discussed at virtually every meeting and it is clear that some heated debate took place. At that time the sizes were determined to be: length 6,1m, beam 2,1m and draft 0,6m. The harbour was originally constructed with only four jetties, namely B, C, D and E, but by early 1994 it was decided to construct A Jetty which would be designed to accommodate eight larger boats. Interestingly it was also decided that the new large berths would be allocated to existing members by means of a lottery in terms of which a draw was held on 22 November 1994 in Cearn Hall.

The question of boat sizes continued to be a contentious issue and much time was devoted to trying to resolve the matter at every single committee meeting and in fact several special general meetings took place in an attempt to reach agreement among members. A serious effort was made to arrive at a workable solution and advice was even obtained from the “Boating Industry Association of SA” who informed the club that at that time the average beam of boats in the class of 4,7 to 6,1m in length was 2,1 to 2,3m.

Another interesting aspect about those early days of the harbour is that it would appear that not a great deal of attention had been given to the provision of trailer parking bays and the plans we have of the harbour at that time show very limited space allocated for trailer parking. Trailer parking soon became a problem and in August/September 1994 it was decided to demarcate 53 trailer parking bays which were all that could be accommodated in the available space. That number seems to have been increased to 70 later on. At about the same time, the committee approached the LI Country Club with a request to make space available for parking on the land LICC leased from Knysna Municipality between LIBC and the bowling greens and tennis courts. LICC agreed to this request on the condition that any parking fees would be payable to LICC. By February 1997 an agreement had been signed with LICC to sublet portion of their property and the municipality had been advised and approved of the arrangement and by the end of the year the extended trailer parking area was in use.

During those early years of the Harbour’s existence many other items were being attended to by the Committee. The Toilet Block and Fish Cleaning table had been constructed, the canoe rack was built and a hoist erected at the washbay. A small office was also constructed which is now used for staff accommodation. A significant improvement was paving and upgrading of the access road from Links Drive to LIBC. After much negotiation with the municipality this was carried out during 1997, the cost being shared between LIBC and KM.

In July 1996, LIBC was devastated by the sudden passing away of its inspirational Chairman, Peter Gordon, who had seen the Club through the crucial time of the formation of LIBC as a fully  independent body, the construction of the harbour and the establishment of the harbour premises to create the fully functional facility that we all know today. Colin Mathiesen, who had many other commitments at that time, including being Commodore of Knysna Yacht Club, once again  stepped into the breach and agreed to act as Chairman for a period of six months.

At the AGM in December 1996, Frank Moodie was elected as the new Chairman of LIBC and at the same meeting it was decided to honour the late Peter Gordon by naming the harbour the “Peter Gordon Harbour”.

As LIBC grew and developed, so too did the need for staff to assist with the many duties and daily responsibilities that could not be handled by the volunteer committee members, and so it was that first Saul Snyders was appointed and later on also Len Lennon. Both of them served the club faithfully for many years until in about August 1998 Carel Nel took over as Harbour Manager and eventually in 2010 Saul Snyders retired. As most of our members know, Carel Nel was to carry on as Harbour Manager at LIBC until he retired in 2016. In the meantime Clive Garth-Davis was appointed as Harbour Manager in 2014 to allow Carel to carry fewer duties.

By 2003, the harbour was showing signs of wear and tear and in particular the timber pole retaining walls were beginning to seriously deteriorate as a result of being attacked by the marine organism “gribble,” a small crustacean which makes its home in timber. There was a clear need for a major programme to repair and upgrade the harbour facilities and at the same time demand for berths had increased and the committee started considering the possibility of extending the harbour. The consulting engineers Nieuwoudt and Hofmeyr were again appointed to undertake an investigation and to submit a report which concluded that the existing timber pole retaining walls should be replaced with stone-filled gabion baskets which would have a long estimated life expectancy. They also recommended that the harbour be extended in a southerly direction to create some 30 new berths.  More significantly, by extending the harbour as proposed, it would be possible to “enable all existing berths to be widened to permit an increase in the current beam limitation of boats from 2,1m to a maximum of 2,4m”. The matter was put to the Members at the AGM in December 2003 and was carried unanimously.

It was at that time that the value of the decision by the early committee to build up a reserve fund became apparent, because without that money the harbour renovation and extension could never have taken place.

The committee wasted no time and by February 2004 approval for the planned harbour extension had been obtained from the Municipality, SANParks, and our neighbours at LICC and the environmental approval process was well under way. LIBC Committee members, Lin Hall (a retired consulting civil engineer who is still a very active LIBC Member and a keen fisherman), Len Wort, and Laurie Mans managed the entire project with Lin appointed as the project manager for the harbour construction and Laurie to work on the jetties. Tenders were invited and the contract was awarded to B&V Contractors in June 2004 at which time all LIBC Members and the public were notified that the harbour would be closed for five monthes from 3 June 2004. Construction proceeded and judging by the correspondence in the club files the project was managed very professionally and satisfactorily by all the parties and especially by the LIBC team. There was a minor hiccup regarding the new level of the parking area between LIBC and the bowling greens/tennis court but the misunderstanding was quickly and amicably settled by all concerned. It is recorded that the main civil engineering contract was successfully completed on 17 November 2004 and the internal part of the harbour was completed on 30 November.

The completely revamped and extended Peter Gordon Harbour was back in operation and ready for use in time for the 2004 December holiday period.

Thus we come to the end of a story that had started  twenty years earlier as a pipe dream and ended with the creation of the unique and wonderful facility we see all round us today, but it does not end there. The Leisure Isle Boat Club has continued to develop and grow over the ensuing years to meet our Members’ ever-changing needs.

To be continued – PART 3